BOISE, Idaho (CBS 2 News) — Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said Wednesday that he believes progress has been made on the effort to protect LGBT people from discrimination while also protecting religious freedoms, but he believes there isn't time this legislative session to come to an agreement.
In the message, Hill said "Consequently, we do not plan to initiate legislation this year. We have made great progress and have developed a workable framework for future discussion. We now invite religious leaders and LGBT rights advocates in our communities to join together to develop a path forward that will benefit all stakeholders. We stand willing to help facilitate such dialogue among those seeking freedom for all."
Wednesday afternoon, the ACLU of Idaho sent their response to the announcement by Sen. Hill.
In it, the ACLU argues that the current proposed legislation from Sen. Maryanne Jordan would address both the concerns of the LGBT community and those worried about violating religious freedom, and that the Idaho Legislature should advance that bill.
"Sen. Maryanne Jordan’s SB 1015 does just that by adding in LGBTQ protections, without permitting religion to be used as a weapon against that same community while also preserving existing religious freedoms under Idaho law," said ACLU Policy Director Kathy Griesmyer in a press release.
Planned Parenthood in Idaho also responded to the announcement from Senator Hill, calling for more urgent action on the issue.
"The truth is that ‘some people’ do not believe every person deserves the freedom to live and work in their community without the fear of discrimination, regardless of who they are or who they love," said Idaho Director Mistie Tolman in a press release. "In 2019, this should not still be up for debate.
Here is the complete statement from Senator Hill:
Finding Balance Between Religious and LGBT Rights
by Senator Brent Hill
Fearing discrimination for their sexual orientation, some in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community have sought protection under Idaho’s Human Rights Act. Currently, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against a person based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. The Act protects against bias in areas of employment, housing and public accommodation.
Public legislative hearings in the past convinced many lawmakers that discrimination against LGBT persons is a genuine problem, and fear of retribution, particularly in the workplace, is a chief concern. Discrimination is ugly and we condemn it. We want to send a message to all that bigotry and persecution are not tolerated by Idahoans. But concerns remain that affording protections to LGBT persons could jeopardize others’ religious freedoms and rights of conscience.
For the past four years, lawmakers from both political parties have worked with citizens and other interested groups to find a resolution. Most of us have concluded that if this impasse is to be resolved, the only viable solution is a balanced approach—one that will provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation while simultaneously safeguarding the right to fully exercise religious convictions. We all have much in common. Many LGBT people are deeply religious and have no desire to threaten the religious beliefs of others. And true believers in almost all religious denominations condemn intolerance and discrimination. It is not that we are on opposite sides, but that we are fellow human beings seeking to follow the Divine admonition to love one another.
It takes time, however, for people to better understand the concepts of this balanced approach and focus on the benefits it provides them. People need time to evaluate the important protections they can secure for themselves by granting security to others. Time we do not have in the current legislative session.
Consequently, we do not plan to initiate legislation this year. We have made great progress and have developed a workable framework for future discussion. We now invite religious leaders and LGBT rights advocates in our communities to join together to develop a path forward that will benefit all stakeholders. We stand willing to help facilitate such dialogue among those seeking freedom for all.
We recognize that some people do not wish to address this issue. But the risks of doing nothing are great on both sides. Unwillingness by the LGBT community to address religious concerns will result in continued inaction by the legislature. If religious freedom advocates ignore the problem, families and business owners will face growing threats to their rights to practice sincerely held religious beliefs in all aspects of their lives. Ultimately, we will all abdicate our rights to the whims of the courts—rulings of which are no longer predictable for either side.
Through mutual respect and sincere compassion, by seeking fairness rather than unilateral advantage, it is both possible and necessary for us to protect against LGBT discrimination while safeguarding religious freedoms. A balanced solution can be found. Without it, both sides will lose.
Response from ACLU Policy Director Kathy Griesmyer:
“Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. That’s why it’s protected in the Idaho and federal constitution, along with additional statutory provisions in Idaho Code. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm others. For decades, we have rejected the idea that anyone’s religious beliefs justify discrimination, including on the basis of race, sex and disability. Our longstanding federal and state civil rights laws reflect balance between these interests. Those laws work and will continue to do so for decades to come. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are our friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. When it comes to being able to earn a living or being served by a business or government office, they should be treated like anyone else and not be discriminated against.”
“For fourteen years the ACLU of Idaho has been fervently advocating for the passage of a straightforward amendment to the Idaho Human Rights Act that would add ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ to the state’s civil rights law. Pro Tem Hill says that legislation will not come forward until a compromise between LGBTQ non-discrimination protections and religious rights are met. But Sen. Maryanne Jordan’s SB 1015 does just that by adding in LGBTQ protections, without permitting religion to be used as a weapon against that same community while also preserving existing religious freedoms under Idaho law. We call on the Pro Tem and other legislative leaders to move that bill forward and allow it to be scheduled for a public hearing. SB 1015 is the solution Idaho has been seeking and it deserves to be heard now.”
Response from Mistie Tolman, Idaho Director for Planned Parenthood:
“Thank you to Senator Hill for acknowledging ‘discrimination against LGBT persons is a genuine problem.’ For over a decade, Planned Parenthood, faith leaders, and many other community leaders have advocated Idaho join other states in protecting LGBTQ Idahoans from discrimination.
We are grateful for the legislators who have listened and worked with us, like Senator Hill. We believe we and Senator Hill share an ultimate goal - to treat all Idahoans with dignity, respect, and fairness under the law. We’ve worked hard with legislators to find common sense solutions to pervasive discrimination against our LGBTQ family members, friends and co-workers.
Unfortunately, Senator Hill indicates that some ‘people need more time.’ So another year will go by while LGBTQ Idahoans face another 12 months of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination at their jobs, in housing, as consumers, and while using public accommodations.
This delay is not, as Senator Hill suggests, the result of an ideological conflict with ‘religious freedom’ advocates. Freedom of religion is already guaranteed in the Idaho State Constitution and protected under the Idaho Human Rights Act.
The truth is that ‘some people’ do not believe every person deserves the freedom to live and work in their community without the fear of discrimination, regardless of who they are or who they love. In 2019, this should not still be up for debate. The Idaho legislature must provide the same non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people that are provided for everyone else, without delay or excuse.”